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Fermented Foods Explained: Benefits & Recipes

Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir and kimchi might seem like a new innovation in healthy superfoods, however, like so much of the good stuff we probably should all be eating, they’ve actually been a staple part of traditional diets for thousands of years.  Whilst the exact origins are unknown, fermentation processes were certainly used around the time that man moved from being a hunter-gatherer towards more of an agriculture-based society.  Fermentation not only preserved food, so it didn’t have to be eaten immediately; it increased variety in terms of taste and texture too.

Today, the word ‘fermented’ quickly conjures up mental images of something slightly warm, gently bubbling and vinegary.  Not the most appetizing thought we have to admit.  But before you write them off completely, read on to find out why everyone’s talking about fermented foods and just what miracles these incredible ancient foods can perform for your health…

Lactic-acid-producing bacteria or ‘friendly bacteria’ are found on the surface of all living things and it is these special microorganisms, which enable the fermentation process.  Fermentation happens when friendly bacteria get to work on turning starches and sugars in foods such as milk, vegetables and fruits into lactic acid.  The lactic acid acts as a preservative meaning that food then keeps for longer; it also helps to feed beneficial bacteria in your gut.

A wide range of different 'friendly bacteria’ also multiply during the fermentation process, which is why fermented foods are often called ‘probiotic’ foods.  One of the major benefits of regularly including fermented foods in your diet is that you are constantly nourishing your gut with a wide range of naturally occurring beneficial microorganisms. 

Taking care of your gut flora is perhaps one of the most important steps you can take to look after not only your gut, but your overall health too.

Lactic-acid producing bacteria inhibit or kill undesirable bacteria both in food and in the human body too, so they form an important part of your daily immune defense.  Fermented foods are much easier to digest than their non-fermented counterparts, and contain an array of key nutrients including B vitamins, which are important for energy production; folic acid, which is crucial during pregnancy and for nervous system health; and vitamin K2, which works with vitamin D and helps to prevent arterial plaque build-up and heart disease.

Another important feature of the fermentation process is that it can help to reduce levels of potentially harmful substances such as phytic acid found in wheat, which can block the absorption of essential minerals.  Some of the acids produced during fermentation might actually boost absorption of certain minerals too.  Hence why fermented wheat products such as ‘sourdough bread’ are a great addition to your diet.

Fermented foods may also help to support detoxification in the body so if you’re thinking of introducing them into your diet, start with just a small amount and build up gradually to allow your system time to adjust.  Most fermented foods are designed to be consumed as a side dish, so you only need to include a small amount each day for optimal effects.

Fermented foods to include in your diet:

•  Kefir
•  Kimchi
•  Kombucha
•  Sauerkraut
•  Fermented vegetables of all kinds
•  Natto
•  Tempeh
•  Lassi

Making your own fermented foods is not an expensive process; you need very little in terms of equipment (a screw top glass mason jar) or ingredients (milk / cabbage / vegetables / salt etc.).  The main obstacle for most people though is finding time to make them in a busy 21st century lifestyle.

Many people opt for a daily supplement that contains a wide range of beneficial bacteria instead, and whilst this can never match up to the benefits of eating fermented foods it’s certainly an excellent second best.  Find out more here on how to choose an effective daily probiotic supplement.

Why not have a go at these fermented foods recipes and find out here what happened when the Nutri Team had a go at making their own!

Or read more about Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Symptoms, Causes & Natural Relief